Handful of Confetti

Culturally, expat life in Italy is the stuff of daydreams; logistically, it can be more of a nightmare. Just to apply for a local driver’s license, one first has to acquire a residence card, a requirement for which is a permesso di soggiorno—permission to stay in the country, for which one must have a visa which must be applied for in one’s native country but with documents that must be gotten in Italy. Each step in the process requires energy, patience, and a therapeutic sense of humor to keep sanity in place.

Say, for example, that you are ready to apply for your permesso. One of the documents you are required to bring is an official form certifying your housing situation, so you go ask your landlord for a copy. Your landlord doesn’t know anything about any such form. You do some research and finally figure out where he can go to apply for this form. Only he has had renovations done on the house that are not yet documented with the government, and what’s more, he doesn’t want to document them with the government because he neglected to apply for his permission to make those renovations in the first place. He stalls. You do more research and find that it is actually illegal for him  to be renting to you without this housing form. He finally relents, finds a way to work around the system (you try not to think too much about this part), and applies for the form. After a few weeks, you are called to the housing office to verify information about how many people are living with you, only when you arrive, you discover the office is on vacation for the month. When the month is up, you return and find out that your American birth certificate needs a special stamp to guarantee its legitimacy before the office will accept it. You mail you birth certificate with fear and trembling to the States where it is stamped and mailed back to you (without getting lost en route, thank goodness), and you return once again to the housing office. All goes smoothly this time, but the form you are waiting on will not be ready for awhile. “Don’t worry,” the housing officials assure you. “We will mail your landlord a letter when the form is ready to be picked up.” And that’s just for one document.

Tobias Jones describes the process of dealing with Italian bureaucracy “like trying to catch confetti: having to race from one office to another, filling in forms and requests, trying to grasp pieces of paper which always just elude your grasp.” I would agree with that except that it sounds like a whirl of activity whereas most of our experience with government offices here has centered around waiting… and waiting… and waaaaaaiiiiiittttttiiiiiiinnnnngggg.

This country has our hearts firmly in its grasp though. We willingly jump through the hoops—or more accurately, wait in the lines—to wake up to the Appennine sun luring fog out of the valley to incandesce with it in open air. We do it for day trips to Etruscan villages, for “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” sung in two languages, for lunchtime chats with our favorite pizzaiolo while he twirls our pizza to perfection in his brick oven. Even Italians think we’re crazy for giving up the American Dream for a life swathed in red tape, and maybe of course we are. But this is home to us. Living here is worth the frustration of trying to do so legally.

And you know, the struggle, the confetti-grasping, and the forced cultivation of patience are exactly what make small victories like this morning’s trip to renew health cards all the more precious.

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  1. Your blog hates me. 🙁 It ate my comment again. Oh well,

    I’ve had those moments of joy when something finally goes smoothly! We’ve had such a crazy mix of paperwork issues since moving up here to CAD.

  2. this is the stuff of
    bestselling memoirs.
    i say go for it.

  3. hah, put a bit of humor inbetween the details, and yes i totally agree with rain;)
    i’d buy it!! 🙂 🙂

  4. It would take a while to get used to all that waiting. Sometimes I get antsy waiting for a red light to turn green…only when I am late…really. (Ahem.) But, for all of the happiness that you have shared here talking about Italy, I know you have fallen in love, hard. Home is where your heart is, and I think that is just where you are.

    Three cheers for health cards! Check that one off the list!

    ps. How is that book going?

  5. YM – Bad blog, bad blog! I’m so sorry about the comment-eating; I’ll poke around and see what can be done. At any rate, yes — those moments when everything goes smoothly far outweigh the [more common] ones when everything doesn’t.

    Rain – I’ll have to shelve the memoir idea until I have a better conclusion than renewed health cards… but thanks for the encouragement, dear. 🙂

    Beka – The humor comes later… sometimes a LONG time later… and it’s mostly the laugh-because-you-don’t-want-to-cry variety, but yes. 🙂

    Meg – Oh goodness, I used to be a basket case at red lights. Fortunately, I now live in a city of roundabouts, and the road rage is all but gone. I get to learn patience at government offices instead! (The book hasn’t been going since November, but I’m determined to get it back in motion this month. ::fingers crossed::)

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